Lifa’s teacher asked me to come to his new school in a couple of weeks and do a Bible lesson for all the third-grade students. I’M STOKED.
Lifa, on the other hand, is slightly less enthusiastic. (He almost rubbed his entire face off in 8-year old horror when he found out.)
When I taught his second-grade class last year, we talked beforehand about how to keep appropriate boundaries and not embarrass him. He ended up loving it, so I started up the same conversations on our car rides to school again… Only this time I had to clarify that it was my job to do what’s best for him, but not my job to cover up the tall tales he’s told to his new friends. The jerk-mom deep down inside is super tempted to show up and say, “Hi, I’m Lifa’s mom, and we do not have a pack of dogs or an airplane.”
Don’t worry guys… I promised to be good.
Mental note: Perhaps the Bible lesson should be on lying. Or how not to be a jerk-mom.
This invitation came out of a meeting I had with Lifa’s teacher to find out what was really going during school. Lifa’s imaginations and exaggerations had become full-on lies, a coping mechanism that squeezes out people and real life one slipped-in story at a time.
There’s a reason he’s stretching stories and embarrassed, so I started asking questions on that short ride to school.
“It’s a little bit embarrassing because my mom is white, and I’m normal.”
Ok. Good starting point. Control your face, Kacy. Focus on the road.
“Lifa, what does normal mean?”
English is a second language, and it’s especially tricky when you live in a nation with 11 national languages and deep levels of cultural conflict.
I shared with our sensitive boy that when he says that he is “normal,” it sounds like he thinks there’s something wrong with me. I told him it hurt my feelings, and asked if that was what he was trying to communicate. Lifa quickly said no, and then I felt a heavy silence fill our car. He didn’t know what to say or do from there.
“Lifa, have you ever thought about what it’s like for Dad and I to live in South Africa and have you as our son?”
“Dad and I don’t speak the same language as a lot of people here, and we are treated very differently because of the way we sound when we talk. We have to use South African money but use banks and pay taxes in America; we only see our parents every couple of years; and even after living in South Africa for a long time, it’s still very hard for us to understand why some things happen the way they do. We love having you, but sometimes people don’t understand why our family looks like it does or why we cannot travel with you. For Dad and I, nothing is normal about living here. Everything that used to be normal for us is far, far away, and we don’t want that life anymore.”
Whoa. Thinking. Silence. Whoa.
“Want to hear a secret, Lifa?”
And we’re back. Because secrets are awesome.
There are two kinds of normal.
There are two Kingdoms with two different normals.
There’s the Kingdom of earth and the Kingdom of heaven. On the Kingdom of earth, all the people around you tell you what’s normal and if you’re good enough. They decide if you should be embarrassed, what you have to say, or how you should act. Other people give you power or take away power.
In the Kingdom of heaven, you still live on earth for now, but you have secret power. Jesus already came to pay the price for you, and that means you’ve been made good enough. It’s finished. You already belong, and you have super-crazy-stronger-than-you-can-even-imagine power that never runs out, just for choosing to live there.
The cool thing about these two kingdoms is that you get to choose which one to live in and to fight for. And, at some point, you have to choose.
Here’s the catch:
If you choose the Kingdom of heaven, you still live on earth around people who may not know about the super-powers of God’s kingdom yet. They will almost always think you are not normal and always think you should be embarrassed. They might even say and do mean stuff. You can see everything in the Kingdom of earth, but heaven has a lot of invisible powers. Some people think it’s easier to just choose what they see and hear. To do stuff that feels normal.
“Lifa, Dad and I made a choice to live for heaven’s Kingdom. Because we made that choice, earth lost it’s power to embarrass us. Now, instead of being upset about all of the earth-normal things we don’t have, we can see that we have THE BEST LIFE EVER. We love the way our family looks and loves, and we love that we get to live in South Africa. When God invites you to do everything that seems not-normal and embarrassing to the Kingdom of earth, it means He’s giving you EXTRA powers for the Kingdom of heaven.”
Earth is just what you see today. And then it goes away.
Heaven is forever.
And YOU get to choose.
We pulled into the schoolyard that morning as he tried to process where he fits in with all this kingdom and normal talk. As he swung his backpack on, I turned around, looked at that handsome boy and told him, “Lifa, Dad and I don’t EVER want to live a life that the earth says is normal again. We choose heaven’s normal, and that means we get to have you in our family. You are one of the very best parts of our life. We love you Lifa, and we are thankful for you.”
I caught a well-loved grin as he bounced out of the car, and I prayed.
Let this be the day that stretched stories and fantasy stop trying to create an in-between Kingdom. Let this be the day that Lifa finds overwhelming satisfaction in the God that loves greater, deeper, higher and wider than his wildest dreams could even fathom. Let this be the day where the Spirit of God fills up that kid and gives him eyes to see the two different Kingdoms.
Lifa, your mom is white. And I hope you don’t stay normal.
It may not be a white mom or a faraway country, but we all feel know the tension, tragedy and trials that Lifa was wrestling with that morning. When two kingdoms collide, conflict is normal.
May we all have eyes to see our lives the way they were written in the original script: Abundant. Complete. Whole. Full of power that is sharpened by others and rejoices in oppression.
May all the not-normals you stumble upon, crash into or get thrown at tell the grandest story of limitless power and happy-ever-after.
May our children understand there are two kingdoms and become warriors for heaven, increasing in number because they know they belong.